Friday, December 14, 2018

On Mount Carmel

Today is the feast of St. Juan de Yepes y Álvarez, better known in English as St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. St. John was a Carmelite who, not quite satisfied with the Order, considered becoming a Carthusian -- until one fateful day he met St. Teresa of Ávila, who was trying to get support for Carmelite convents based on the original rather than the modified and mitigated rule that the Carmelites had come to follow; she was just started her second, and it was in the course of doing this that she happened by chance to meet St. John, who just happened by chance to have taken a trip to the town in which she was doing it. It shows what a chance meeting between saints can do. St. John was taken with the idea and after studying how it worked, founded the first monastery in St. Teresa's reform, and the Discalced Carmelites began to grow at a rapid pace from there. It would be a rocky road -- St. Teresa had to face the Inquisition and St. John was arrested several times, due to the instigations of Carmelites who were opposed to the reforms. But they survived all the trials and did not stop. St. John died of infection on December 14, 1591.

From St. John's Ascent of Mount Carmel (Book I, Chapter IV):

All the wisdom of the world and all human ability, compared with the infinite wisdom of God, are pure and supreme ignorance, even as Saint Paul writes ad Corinthios, saying: Sapientia hujus mundi stultitia est apud Deum. ‘The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.’ Wherefore any soul that makes account of all its knowledge and ability in order to come to union with the wisdom of God is supremely ignorant in the eyes of God and will remain far removed from that wisdom; for ignorance knows not what wisdom is, even as Saint Paul says that this wisdom seems foolishness to God; since, in the eyes of God, those who consider themselves to be persons with a certain amount of knowledge are very ignorant, so that the Apostle, writing to the Romans, says of them: Dicentes enim se esse sapientes, stulti facti sunt. That is: Professing themselves to be wise, they became foolish. And those alone acquire wisdom of God who are like ignorant children, and, laying aside their knowledge, walk in His service with love. This manner of wisdom Saint Paul taught likewise ad Corinthios: Si quis videtur inter vos sapiens esse in hoc soeculo, stultus fiat ut sit sapiens. Sapientia enim hujus mundi stultitia est apud Deum. That is: If any man among you seem to be wise, let him become ignorant that he may be wise; for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. So that, in order to come to union with the wisdom of God, the soul has to proceed rather by unknowing than by knowing; and all the dominion and liberty of the world, compared with the liberty and dominion of the Spirit of God, is the most abject slavery, affliction and captivity.

Montée mont carmel jean de la croix

St. Edith Stein on reading St. John of the Cross:

"Pure love" for our holy Father John of the Cross means loving God for his own sake, with a heart that is free form all attachment to anything created: to itself and to other creatures, but also to all consolations and the like which God can grant the soul, to all particular forms of devotion, etc.; with a heart that wants nothing more than that God's will be done, that allows itself to be led by God without any resistance. What one can do oneself to attain this goal is treated in detail in the Ascent of Mount Carmel. How God purifies the soul, in the Dark Night. The result, in the Living Flame and the Spiritual Canticle. (Basically, the whole way is to be found in each of the volumes, but each time one or the other of the stages is predominant.)

[Edith Stein, Self Portrait in Letters, 1916-1942, Koeppel, tr., ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 1993) Letter 311 (to Sr. Agnella Stadtmüller), p. 318.]

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